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S.D. Now Accepting Additional Plastic Items In Recycling Program

All of these plastic items are now accepted by the City of San Diego's Recycling Program.
Hilary Andrews
All of these plastic items are now accepted by the City of San Diego's Recycling Program.
S.D. Now Accepting Additional Plastic Items In Recycling Program
The City of San Diego is now accepting additional plastic items in its recycling program. A representative from the city's Environmental Services Department joins us to explain which items can now be tossed into your blue curbside recycling bin.

The City of San Diego is now accepting additional plastic items in its recycling program. A representative from the city's Environmental Services Department joins us to explain which items can now be tossed into your blue curbside recycling bin.



Ken Prue, recycling program manager for the City of San Diego's Environmental Services Department.

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. San Diego's blue bin curb side recycling program is expanding. All those round yogurt and dairy cups, plastic drink cups, deli trays, can now be recycled, but there are still guidelines about what The recycled materials have to be in, and you still can't put plastic grocery bags in the blue bins here to tell us all about the additions to the San Diego programs, is my guest, Ken Prue is recycling program manager for the City of San Diego's environmental services department. And Ken, welcome.

KEN PRUE: Good morning, thank you for having me.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So what kinds of additional plastic items can city residents now put into their recycling bins?

KEN PRUE: Oh, it's actually quite a bit. It's -- the people have really been asking for. It's yogurt and margarin containers, plastic clam shells, and also to-go containers, buckets, plastic chairs, as long as they fit in your bin. I've brought in a number of displays.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You certainly did.

KEN PRUE: I know it doesn't help on a radio show. But as you can see in the studio, it's quite a bit. I mean, the flower pots, even plastic tubs. Plastic trash cans or recycling bins, if you have a small sized container by your desk that's broken now, you can put that in. And the key with it is that you have the items be -- especially for the to go containers or the clam shells or that, is they don't have to be spotless, but it's good that the cleaner they are, the better. Of so especially for to go containers where you have a lot of residual food or salad dressing or that, it's really good to those be as clean as possible.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You just want people to sort of rinse them out a bit.

KEN PRUE: Yeah, if nothing else, if you have some left over dish water from washing the pots and pans, maybe give it a quick tunc. I just think the cleaner the better. For some, you might have in your container for up to two weeks so it helps to have it pretty clean.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: No, why hasn't the city accepted these items in the past?

KEN PRUE: In the past, the markets, the recycling markets, the commodity markets, but for those materials they weren't very stable. So we needed to make sure that if we were gonna take something, we have to make sure that we're ready to take it forever. Because once we turn it on, you can't just turn it off. So I mean, we wouldn't want to go six months down the road and say oh, sorry, never mind because we're gonna gets it whether we want it or not. And the last thing we would want to do is to take something and then have to send it to the landfills.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, what are some of the items the city still can't accept?

KEN PRUE: With plastic am whys, things that we can't accept are the compostable plastics, which are starting to come into the marketplace more and more. And the hard part is they look just like regular plastic containers, but they'll usually be marked with either PLA or a little symbol. Of but those still need to -- they can't go into their recycling bin because they contaminate the stream. Also plastic bags or plastic film or utensils, or Styrofoam, such as dimensional Styrofoam from packaging or the peanuts. Those are still not acceptable.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I see, so no peanuts in the recycling bin. Those other plastics that you were talking about, there is the ones that label themselves made out of plant material. And you can put them in your compost?

KEN PRUE: Actually, they're -- it's tricky because there's -- there are some bottles, like, some -- I always think of the Dasani water bottle that are kind of light blue, that they're actually made from plant material but they actually comely are exactly compatible with plastic. So those ones are no problem.


KEN PRUE: But they have new ones that are labeled either biodegradable or compostable, and in theory, they're -- some of them are -- they can break down into commercial composting setting, but hardly any of them would actually break down, say, in a backyard composting bin.


KEN PRUE: So unfortunately, if you have those, at least locally right now, it's something that would still need to go in the trash can.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I think the thing, the biggest bugaboo for people is not accepting plastic grocery bags. 'Cause it's so convenient just to put your other recyclables in the plastic grocery bag, then put the plastic grocery bag in the blue bin. So why no plastic grocery bags.

KEN PRUE: Well, it's -- for a number of reasons, but the one thing with the bags is that they tend to trap, you know, the materials are mixed together. And if you get, say, broken glass or some dirt or even some of the shredded paper and things, they tend to cling to the plastic, especially here in San Diego, it's so dry that it'll actually create a static charge, and the dirt will actually get attracted to it. But the big thing, if that plastic gets dirty, then it's very hard to market it. Because it would have to be cleaned. But then also the plastic bags tend to make it harder to sort material, and also they can get trapped in the conveyors, and in some of the screening equipment, they have a lot of axles that spin and have disks on them. Of and the plastic bags just clean to those. So it makes a big challenge for the processors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And just to be clear then, it adds to the core cost of recycling, because you actually have to have people now to take those plastic grocery bags out of the flow of recyclables, right?

KEN PRUE: Exactly. And one thing with the plastic bags, there's a really good infrastructure with the grocery stores. Most grocery stores take them. And with any material, the cleaner you can take it as far as separating it and getting it into the -- to being reused or recycled, the better for making the future end product.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Ken , and he's talking about a whole lot of additional plastic items that the City of San Diego now accepts in its blue curb side recycling program. Is it -- are the additions all plastic items? Or are there also some paper items that are new?

KEN PRUE: At this point all of the new items are different plastic items.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, tell me, and I think there would be good for us to get an idea of how to prepare these items for recycling, but also just in general to prepare things for recycling, because there are a lot of things that people simply won't take because the items are too big or they're not broken down. Tell us about that.

KEN PRUE: Oh, yes, I think the big thing, I think when breaking down -- I always think of card board boxes, if you just take a second to flatten them out, it creates quite a bit more room in your bin because you could have even with a large 96-gallon container that most people have, you get one card board box that's not broken down, and it takes up a third of your capacity or half of your capacity, so taking a second to flatten those out helps. And with these new plastic items, we can take lawn chairs or even plastic tables or the rigid plastic kiddie pool, I was asked about a kiddie pool the other day. And you could, but the big thing is, they have to be broken down or cut up to fit, actually, within the bin. Because if they are protruding out of the bin or if they're next to the bin, they can't be collected. So we want to make sure that it's presented in a way that it can be successfully collected into the truck, and the truck can continue on its route and next stop.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: There are some people who put things, you know, like, next to the bin or kind of on top of the bin, and then everything else is collected and that item still remains, and they're saying well, why didn't they take that? Why didn't they take that? And it's largely because they just simply can't get it into the truck? Is that sort of the -- or it just is not in a proper -- it hasn't been presented to them in a proper way?

KEN PRUE: It's part partly because, if it's really large, it wouldn't fit into the collection hopper, the place in the truck where it falls into, but also the automated trucks for the blue bins and also for the black trash cans, their whole design is to -- if are the driver to come up, it's a single driver, they come up, an automated arm gets the container, and it goes into the truck, and if the driver has to get out of the truck, it breaks the efficiency of that automation.


KEN PRUE: And it also presents a challenge because then the driver would have to try it fit it into that same bin, and it's trying to put a five-foot diagram table into a, you know, a two-foot by two-foot hole, it's just not gonna work.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: He'd be there all day. Is there some sort of labeling or mark on these new plastic items that people have to look for to see if they qualify for recycling?

KEN PRUE: No, basically, we can take any plastic bottle or jar, and now your yogurt tubs, your margarin tubs, and a whole wide range of plastic items, and we actually have information on our website on that on the recycling, and it basically, we just want to think more, to keep it simple, we want to think of the things that you really can't put in, so you still can't do plastic bags, we still can't take Styrofoam or the plastic utensils or the newer compostable or biodegradable plastics, because they really have the big potential to ruin the whole batch of the recycle of plastics.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We have a caller on the line with a question about that, Laura is you will caking from Carmel Valley, welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: I was calling to find out if the assistant district attorney has any plans for taking kitchen waste as compost. I have a friend in San Francisco where she's able to put in coffee grounds and all kinds of food, including meat, which I was very surprised and it goes into her yard waste which is collected by the city.

KEN PRUE: At this point, on the residential side, we don't have immediate plans. It's something that we'd like to consider in the future. But it would take developing some additional infrastructure to be able to process the green waste collected with the food waste. We to have a little bit on the commercial side, we work with institutions such as sea world, and the convention center, and local universities and we collect it from their local kitchens, excuse me, marine corps recruit depot from their mess hall. And --

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What are some of the other areas, frontiers that you're looking at when it comes to city recycling.

KEN PRUE: One of the things, we have a city recycling ordinance, and from the residents. And it's been on the books a few years now, and people were doing a first degree job of is it, and from the reporting we get from our haulers, we find that about two thirds of the businesses and multifamily complexes are doing a great job, but that means that there's still about a third that don't have recycling. So for the City of San Diego, it's about two thirds of complexes, that's our next wave of out reach. Chicago. And free assistance to help them get their programs going.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, I know that there's no additional paper products that you're expanding approximate into that you want to make an announcement right now, but what kinds of paper products are accepted now as recyclable materials? Just about anything.

KEN PRUE: Yeah, pretty much, it'd be your cardboard, your newspaper, magazines, junk mail, office paper, are the paper board containers from your food items, say if you had a frozen dinner, or the paper board sleeve or the paper board from your twelve pack drinks. Basically all paper, and there's just a few things like the paper milk jugs or other wax coated paper, or other wax or coated paper that, say the cardboard that's coated with the wax from produce. So it's really only a few things. We basically want to people to think of, keep it simple, pretty much all of your paper, your cardboard, it's quite a bit.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I read the city had a record recycling record of 66 percent in 2009. What does that mean exactly? And congratulations by the way. It sounds pretty good.

KEN PRUE: Yeah, thank you. And we're pretty excited, it's our highest to date. And it's a measure of the amount of waste that's disposed versus the amount of waste that's generated. So in the City of San Diego, the generation is about 4.1 million tons in a year, and we're just down to disposing of over 1.4 million tons. And so that delta is about 66 percent of all the material, and that's material that is being recycled and not going to the landfill.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: With these additional items, I would expect you expect that number to keep going up.

KEN PRUE: Yeah, between the additional plastic items, and then San Diegans continuing to get into the habit, but continuing to get in the habit and once you're in the habit, it's really easy, but we're expecting our diversion rate or recycling rate to continue climbing.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tell us once again where people can find all these additional items that people can recycle. "Cause you have a very nice website and a list of them, and pictures of them so people can see which items they can recycle now.

KEN PRUE: Yes, definitely, and our website is recycling And our customer service number is 8586947000, and we're also now on Facebook, if you're logged on to Facebook, you can search for San Diego recycling works, and there we're also on twitter as well, and we encourage you to like our Facebook page and to follow us on Twitter, we put out a lot of really good and hopefully interesting inspection.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And these additional item can go in right now. We don't have to wait, it's started already.

KEN PRUE: Yes, it's already going, you can put if in today, and we hope that the residents really enjoy the ability to recycle these additional materials. We're really excited about it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you for bringing in all this stuff. I know our listeners can't see it. But I think we were able to describe the items pretty well. If you'd like to comment, please go on-line, Days. Coming up, the economic power of biomimicry. That's as These Days continues here on KPBS.